Illinois Public Media News
Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan
A plan to generate renewable energy by constructing three wind turbines on the University of Illinois' South Farms site has been scaled down to one turbine located on the corner of Old Church Road and Philo Road.
The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the university said it can only afford to support one tower with that budget.
"It's unlikely we'll be able to do more than one at this time," said Morgan Johnston, the University of Illinois' sustainability and transportation coordinator.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has given Carle Foundation Hospital the green light to build a nine-story patient bed tower that will house the hospital's Heart and Vascular institute.
The $200 million project has been on hold for more than a year because of the sluggish economy, but is now moving forward through the financial backing of bonds and private donations.
Included in the new tower will be work spaces for cardiovascular, neuroscience, and intensive care services to better address emergent, acute, and chronic conditions. The new tower will also include 136 single patient rooms that will replace inadequate rooms from older buildings on the hospital campus that date back to the 1960s and 1970s.
"There is dedicated family space in each of those rooms, and lots and lots of natural light coming in through," said Stephanie Beever, the hospital's vice president of Business Development. "There's lots of glass in this building that our research has shown will actually help patients improve, get better quicker, and hopefully get home quicker."
Revised construction costs for the patient bed tower are $17 million less than what was originally projected a couple of years ago. Officials from Carle estimate that the tower will have a $100 million impact on the local economy.
Up to 250 workers will be hired to work on the constrution of the new tower. ManorCare nursing home in Urbana will be torn down in January to make room for the new patient tower with construction set to begin in March. The project is scheduled to completed in June 2013. It will be located on Coler Street between Park and Church Streets.
The theft of more than $10,000 worth of copper building materials taken last week from the University of Illinois' Natural History Building has prompted university police to look at efforts to protect its other copper-rich buildings.
Skip Frost, the Patrol Division Commander with the University's police department, said the incident was the largest of its kind on campus in recent memory. Frost said the university is in talks with building contractors to figure what can be done to prevent more thefts from happening.
"What we'd like to do and what we're able to do are two different things," Frost explained. "There are so many things that could be done, including securing (copper) in a better fashion, having better key card access, and improving locks, but you can put all those things in there, that does not mean crime is not going to occur."
Copper prices went up in November, and have continued to rise this month, reaching more than $4.00 per pound. Ameren spokesperson Brianne Lindemann said she expects there will be more thefts from homes and businesses as commodity prices for copper go up.
"You need to secure any building that you have," Lindemann cautioned. "You definitely want to keep some lights on. You just want to make sure that those buildings look like somebody has been in there.
University of Illinois officials on the Urbana campus are moving forward with a series of revenue-generating measures after studying a Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois report released last spring.
The report proposes a host of options to improve the university's financial standing, including raising overall enrollment so that more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition can be admitted. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler noted that the U of I will tread carefully in its efforts to boost revenue by looking at how doing something accepting more students could affect the university's commitment to quality education.
"If you cannot maintain the quality, there's absolutely no reason to do something like that," she said. "Every decision we make about what to implement, what not to implement will have that consideration first."
The Stewarding Excellence report also suggested setting up a system in which every faculty member would be required to submit their teaching, research, and public engagement contributions in an annual report that would be factored into the evaluation of promotion and tenure.
"It just seems unwise to tie any kind of financial metrics based on instruction, or other revenue generating activities into the academic evaluation system," she said.
University of Illinois Interim Vice President and Chancellor Robert Easter said he encourages different departments on campus to find research areas where they can collaborate, and work to develop grant-funded research professorships.
Easter also said the U of I will create a faculty-led commission to explore other income-producing activities like professional development training programs and partnerships with academic institutions in other countries.
The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.
The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.
The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.
Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.
"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.
Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.
"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."
Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Free mobile food pantries will be dispatched throughout Champaign County starting this weekend.
The United Way is teaming up with several labor groups to distribute nearly 40,000 pounds of food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank to low-income families in Rantoul, Mahomet, Champaign and Urbana during the first three Saturdays of the month.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, more than 18 percent of people in Champaign County were living in poverty in 2008, which during that year was about six percent higher than the state's overall poverty level. Eric Westlund, the AFL-CIO Community Services Liason, said the poverty level in Champaign County has not changed substantially, but he said there is still a significant need to feed hungry families.
"You can't really tell by looking at somebody if they're in poverty or not," he said. "It's just not something that's visible, but believe me there's just so many people out there that can use a little help, especially at this time of the year."
Each mobile pantry can feed up to 150 families. Westlund said many children in low-income families are not getting enough protein, which is why the pantry will offer a lot of canned fruits and vegetables.
"We're looking to feed these kids so that they are healthy," he said. "There's a little peanut butter in there, and they'll get some cookies, but there will be fresh produce and other things to offset that too."
The food will be distributed Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 200 S. Century Blvd., Rantoul at 10 a.m. and at the Mahomet United Methodist Church, 1302 E. South Mahomet Road at 12:30 p.m. On Dec. 11, the pantry will distribute goods at Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., C. Distribution at 10 a.m. On Dec. 18, the final pantry will be set up at Prairie Elementary School, 2102 E. Washington St., U. Distribution at 10 a.m.
The head of Champaign's 150th Anniversary Celebration said dozens of people of all ages have already sent in their writings on Champaign's past, present or future for the "Letters to the Future" project.
Project Manager LaEisha Meaderds said they are looking for letters to put in a time capsule, to be ready when the capsule is opened 50 years from now, in 2060.
"We've received several letters from just individuals throughout the community," Meaderds said. "We received a stack of letters from Next Generation School, from just a couple of weeks ago, from 7th and 8th graders. And their wit and their insight into what the future would hold are very interesting."
Meaderds said letter-writers should focus on one of three topics --- their personal family ties to Champaign, a description of life in Champaign today, or their hope or dream for Champaign's future.
Letters will be accepted until January 14th, 2011. One hundred and fifty of them will be chosen for display, and then included in the Anniversary time capsule. The capsule will be buried in March, when the year-long 150th Anniversary Celebration comes to a close.
The March wrap up to the Champaign Sesquicentennial will be more low-key than first envisioned. Meaderds said a budget crunch in city government and the generally weak economy mean the concluding celebrations will be smaller than first intended, and plans for installing a commemorative fountain in downtown Champaign have been put on hold.
But Meaderds said they have managed to adjust the 150th Anniversary Celebration to changing economic realities.
"Our planning started before the real downfall began," she explained. "And I think that we've been really, really smart to try and keep our costs as low as possible, and really just spend wisely --- but still at the same time, celebrate our city, celebrate our community and put on a good show."
The 150th Anniversary Celebration started last March with an exhibit on Champaign history, followed by a downtown music festival in July. Meaderds said a youth art competition is part of the Celebration's conclusion this coming March, in addition to the "Letters to the Future" project and the time capsule.
For more information on the Champaign 150th Anniversary Celebration, visit the project's website (www.champaign150.com) or call 217-403-8710.
Illinois' economy keeps creeping slowly toward recovery according to a monthly gauge of economic performance, but the economist who calculates the University of Illinois Flash Index says an amnesty program for late taxpayers in the state may have distorted the index in November.
Fred Giertz says he made an adjustment in the index, placing it at 94.2 for the month. That's still well below the 100-level that signifies economic growth, but it's slightly higher than October's index, marking the seven straight month of similar increases.
The Flash Index is based on state tax proceeds in a given month. Giertz says if he had not adjusted the index to account for the tax amnesty program, it would have been about five points higher.
Area educators have issued urgent appeals for the state to maintain funding in areas ranging from transportation to early childhood education.
Champaign was the site for the last of the State Board of Education's six public hearings on the Fiscal 2012 budget. Champaign Unit 4 Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas testified that cuts to the district's early childhood program have meant 40 less students, with a waiting list of 100. He pleaded with the state board and legislature to increase funding in that area. "And the only winner is the state prison system when we don't get our children off to the best start that's possible," said Logas. "It's just such a shame to waste scare resources building prisons when we could be using that money on our youngest children. This is a just a total waste, a total lack of priorities. We should all be ashamed of ourselves." Logas also says maintaining court-mandated special education remains a very expensive proposition for many districts.
Cris Vowels is the principal at Urbana's Washington Early Childhood School. She says every year, the amount of the school's grant is questionable, and how many staff members can be re-hired. She says 70-percent of them were given Reduction in Force notices last spring.
"And so come August when I found out that we were indeed going to be fully funded, I was calling people on Friday asking them to come back to work on Monday," said Vowels. "Of course, I lost key staff members. Most particularly, my bilingual staff members who are in high demand around the state." Vowels suggests the state support a multi-year grant program for early childhood programs.
Former Champaign School Board member Margie Skirvin says the uncertainty of state payments has been the biggest problem among all districts. Representing the Illinois PTA, she says the group is backing a House bill that would shift the burden of funding education from property taxes to income taxes. Deb Foertsch, Illinois Federation of Teachers Vice President and a teacher at Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary, says an easing of tax cap restrictions in affected districts could help save programs like bilingual and gifted education. And Jessica Schad, a second year teacher at Urbana Middle School, says she wouldn't have survived in her job if it weren't for a grant-funded mentoring program at District 116.
James Bauman, chair of the ISBE's finance committee, says most funding remains committed to general state aid, with about a billion dollars left for grant funded programs, include early childhood education. He says comments at Tuesday's Champaign hearing reflect those of others held around the state, and will help guide the State Board when it recommends an education budget to lawmakers in January.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged another $47 million to keep a temporary jobs program going while the state hopes for more federal money.
The latest infusion of cash is in addition to $75 million Quinn pledged in September to keep the Put Illinois to Work program from ending.
The extension will keep the program going through Jan. 15. Quinn's office says more than 26,000 people have gotten jobs.
The jobs program was a centerpiece of Quinn's campaign in a close election win over Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, who criticized the governor for using state money to keep it going.
The governor's office says the $47 million will come from proceeds of the bond sale of a portion of the state's tobacco settlement money.
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